Here's a quick riddle - what's better than a racing game?
The answer is: a racing game with guns.
That's not very funny, I know. Sorry about that. If it bothers you that I wasn't funny just then, let me know and I'll tell a joke about a retarded kid or a slutty woman. Those seem to go over pretty well.
But seriously, folks, I'm here all week. Tip your waitress.
Rush N Crush did not impress me when I was setting it up out of the box. You get these teeny tiny racecars that tend to fall apart and that are really hard to pick up. Plus they don't look like race cars, they look like what you might expect to see if you could zoom way close on a nanobot that was built to give you a colonoscopy. And while the rules look really nice, there are a lot of little confusing discs, and I gotta tell you, I wasn't sure what to do with them all.
ButI always say that if you send me your game, I'll review it, so we put it together and gave it a shot. I have to say that, after my initial impression, I was pretty darn surprised.
Comparisons to Formula D are going to be inevitable, so I'm just going to get that out of the way and drop the two games side by side here. Formula D lets you roll a special die based on your gear; Rush N Crush sets your speed at a specific number, and you roll the dice to determine how many times you can change lanes. The faster you're going, the worse your chances of getting enough lane changes to negotiate a tricky curve. Formula D penalizes too much speed by making you slow down in the corners. Rush N Crush penalizes too much speed by making you slam into a brick wall so hard that your ass goes through your forehead.
Now, before I sound like I'm bashing Formula D, I should be clear that I most certainly am not. I still adore Formula D. I love the madcap racing, pushing your luck, planning a technical maneuver around a tricky 3-point corner and probably destroying your tires and flipping your car into the stands like one of those horrible videos you see on YouTube that disgusts you to the point that you can only watch it five more times before forwarding it to all your friends.
It's just that there is room in my heart to love two fantastic racing games. Like I tell my kids, I love you both just as much, I just love you different. They never believe me, of course, because they're teenagers and thus genetically wired to assume I am an idiot. Happily, Formula D is a game, not an infuriating teenager, and thus loves me unconditionally (or would, if it was a dog and not a board game).
Rush N Crush sacrifices almost none of the technical aspects of Formula D while adding a great moving combat element. I haven't tried playing it without the machine guns and flamethrowers, but I can still tell that the racing aspect of the game is really great. Other racing games I have played that included guns had a sort of ten-second survival rule - if you could be the last man standing after the flag dropped, you could drive to the finish line like a half-blind grandmother on Sunday afternoon, because those first ten seconds were pure mayhem, and everything after that was one guy puttering toward the finish line on three wheels and a dragging tailpipe.
Instead, Rush N Crush has a near-perfect balance between combat and tactical racing skill. You have points you can spend to make up for driving poorly, but these will run out fast if you rely on them too heavily, so you have to drive really well or you'll wind up a smoldering heap of twisted metal. Punch it at the wrong time, and you might use up your steering computer and piledrive a cement wall at 250 miles an hour. But if you let an opponent fly past you, you might never be able to catch up, even if you can shoot at him after he gets in front of your car. The timing works out great - towards the end of the race, every move becomes more important, and if you do blow up, it will probably be within sight of the finish line.
Part of this is achieved because the guns, while deadly, are not overpowering. If you pull right up on an opponent's tail and let fly some hot lead, you can probably give him a little something for him to remember you by, but you're going to have to do that a few times if you want to see him blow up. And you have to be careful, because he might be dropping mines as he moves, and you could just as easily lose a fender to his claymore as he could lose a hubcap to your hood-mounted gatling gun.
As the race progresses, players will start to either fall back (because they're too scared to push their cars) or fall apart (because they pushed their cars too hard and ended up bouncing off a couple walls like a sugar-crazed first-grader at Chuck E Cheese). Still, there are plenty of resources you can exploit to reduce damage, so you'll probably make it pretty far before you have to start worrying that the next wreck is your last.
As you approach the end of the race, though, things start to go bad. Your engine has been running hot for so long that it's about to melt. Between bouncing off walls, flying over mines and soaking up bullets, your engine is basically held in place by the battery cable and the paper label on your radiator cap. You've exhausted all your turbo, burned out your brakes, and fried your steering computer. But you can't slow down - there's another car right on your ass, and if he passes, he'll probably rip your doors off with a rotary saw blade. So you slam the throttle wide open, pray for a miracle, and watch your heat monitor spike past 'overheat' and into 'nuclear meltdown'.
I can get a bit of an adrenaline rush playing Formula D. I love to take my chances with a higher gear to see if I can keep my speed up coming out of a technical hairpin. I love to push it just a little farther than anyone else, and gamble everything on a couple tricky die rolls. But any kind of accelerated heart rate I might get from Formula D is nothing compared to the frenetic, violent, intense rush of trying to finish a race with one point of armor and one point of heat before you're scrap metal. The pacing is brilliant, the driving is technical, and the violence is satisfying yet restrained enough to let you enjoy the whole game. The more people you put on this crazy course, the more the bullets will fly, but since the racing part of the game is nearly exciting enough with the gunfire, you could play with just two and have a great time.
One of my chief complaints with Formula D is that you're going to end up driving the same course over and over, because there just aren't that many tracks (unless you pick up boards from Formula De, which is a great idea, but they aren't nearly as pretty as the reprint). Rush N Crush addresses that issue with track tiles. Eight to ten of these track tiles go together to make your race arena, complete with collapsed containment walls, concrete blockades and frightening turns. You could use just four or five and make a circuit race, or use them all to see if anyone can survive long enough to finish the race. You can use the standard eight for the most well-rounded game, but I look forward to seeing what kinds of crazy races I can make with all the stuff in the box.
I still am not crazy about the cars in Rush N Crush, and will probably buy some very tiny futuristic car models from somewhere to convert them. God knows they'll be more interesting that way. But the car pawns are the only complaint I can really find about Rush N Crush, and that complaint is meaningless compared to the pure jet fuel kick-ass of the rest of the game.
So now, instead of pushing a Formula D racing car to the edge before I pit stop, I'll be piloting a death machine around a futuristic gladiator race, dodging bullets and slinging fireballs, narrowly avoiding rockslides and land mines, and barreling toward the finish line like a cross between an out-of-control freight train and Haley's comet. I can feel this game on so many levels that I can't help but look forward to playing it a whole hell of a lot more.
If you like racing games with bullets in them (and you totally should), you owe yourself a copy of Rush N Crush. It's more fun than is decent.
High adrenaline combat racing
Great combat that doesn't sacrifice great racing
Excellent pacing and nail-biting decisions
Luck plays a part without running the game
The little cars could be better
Matt is a staff writer for Fortress: Ameritrash and the author of the Drake's Flames blog, where you can read more of his crassly opinionated reviews.